(2017) Jen Williams, Headline, £14.99, trdpbk, 534pp, ISBN 978-1-472-23517-6
Just when one great Jen Williams fantasy trilogy, namely 'The Copper Cat' trilogy featuring Wydrin, Firth and Sebastian, comes to an end with The Silver Tide, along comes another Jen Williams trilogy, this one under the banner of 'The Winnowing Flame', starting with The Ninth Rain and featuring another strong trio of lead characters.
Apart from world-building, plotting and characterisation, Jen Williams is also pretty good at naming her characters, thus we start with eccentric explorer, Lady de Grazon, otherwise known as Vintage offering Tormalin the Oathless a job as sword for hire, and he sees an easy way out. Even when they are joined by a fugitive witch called Noon who is on the run from a religious prison. Noon is a fell-witch who has the ability to draw on life energy to set things on fire. So with these two companions, the prospect of facing down monsters and retrieving ancient artefacts is preferable to the abominations Tormalin left behind.
All good things must come to an end, and so it is for great cities and civilisations. The streets of Ebora were once glittered with gold but now that city and the empire is dying and wolves walk the streets, for the Eborans have extended their life span by drinking the sap of the great tree god, Ygresil, but that god is dead, killed when the Eborans last fought the insect-like Jureília who attack from above in strikes called 'rains' where they turn humans into killer drones. Only death and decay await in Ebora in the form of a disease called the Crimson Flux, that is if the returning Jure-lia donít get you first. The last battle was called 'The Eighth Rain', and given the title of the book, you can guess what is coming.
Tormalin, or Tor for short, does not intend to stick around in the dying city, waiting to catch a fatal disease, and things are already bad enough because his unstable sister, Hestillion, wants to restore the dead god any way she can, but Vintage doesnít want to see the city and the empire fall either, so pretty soon our three main characters are on a quest taking them to all sorts of exotic locations such as bustling cities to grasslands which are not as safe as they seem.
It is good to see a slightly older female main character in the form of Vintage, and she has a very enjoyable love-hate relationship with Tor, evidenced through their lively banter, which is slightly different from Torís relationship with Noon, which is all hate-hate. We also pick up a few other strays along the way, who will feature more strongly in the next book, I presume, unless they end up as Jureília-fodder. All in all The Ninth Rain is probably better written than 'The Copper Cat' trilogy, which will be blasphemy to the ears of some fans. The Ninth Rain has: good characters, good driving plot, good world-building, and some very essential dangling plot lines, although maybe a tad long for me given that it is over five hundred pages and only 46 chapters, some of which start with extracts from private letters or journals, but thatís a minor quibble and not enough to put me off looking out for The Bitter Twins, book two in the trilogy.
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